"Star Trek Voyager: Dark Matters"

by Michelle Erica Green

Christie Golden has ruined Voyager for me because she writes it better than the show's producers ever have. Her novels The Murdered Sun and Marooned star my fantasy Janeway, and all her characters have more life -- not to mention more consistency -- than those on the show. Even Super-Borg Wonder Bra, I mean Wonder Woman Seven of Nine, becomes an enjoyable member of the Voyager ensemble in Golden's books. And her Chakotay is a man of introspection, passion and wit. Why don't we see these characters on television?

Golden also creates intriguing alien cultures and spins good sci-fi yarns. The Dark Matters trilogy begins with a question never answered by the writers of the television series -- whatever happened to the messages Voyager sent to the Alpha Quadrant in the first-season episode "Eye of the Needle"? They were carried by Telek R'Mor, a Romulan scientist who lived twenty years in Voyager's past. Golden hypothesizes that the wormhole through which Voyager contacted R'Mor was an artificial construct, and that Romulan espionage agents from the Tal Shiar would try to exploit R'Mor's knowledge of Voyager's existence. The Romulans could claim a Federation starship from twenty years in their future as their prize, if only they could open a wormhole in the right place.

R'Mor, who seemed like a good guy in "Eye of the Needle," decides to risk his life and his family to warn Voyager of an impending attack. Janeway rescues him by beaming him through a wormhole to the Delta Quadrant. The scientist shows his gratitude by sharing his knowledge about a deadly threat from his own Empire: an alien named Lhiau, from a Q-like race that calls itself The Shepherds, has taught the Romulans to make impenetrable cloaks using dark matter. This elusive material makes up the bulk of galaxies, yet (in Golden's books at least) can exist benignly only in an inchoate state between universes. When Lhiau pulls the dark matter completely into the universe of the Federation and the Romulans, the matter becomes malignant, destroying everything with which it comes into contact.

While Janeway sets off on a quest to find the Shepherds in the hope of learning how to stop the dark matter from killing her crew, Chakotay discovers that his spirit guide has been replaced by the trickster Coyote, who speaks in Q's voice and seems determined to explain the nature of the threat via maddening riddles. After the sudden arrival of a mysterious alien whose DNA is nearly the reverse of most humanoids', Chakotay pulls Paris through a portal to what is apparently the universe of the alien's origin. As the two Voyager crewmen struggle to survive on a dangerously divided planet, Janeway and the engineering crew try to save people and planets infected with mutated dark matter, without destroying Voyager in the process.

Meanwhile, back in the Alpha Quadrant, Tal Shiar leader Jekri Kaleh begins to suspect Lhiau has no real desire to help the Romulans -- in particular, she is disturbed by his invasion of their minds, including her own. A faked love affair with her second-in-command to hide their conspiratorial meetings backfires, leaving her on her own, with nothing but forbidden Vulcan mental disciplines to shield her from Lhiau. By the time Kaleh realizes the magnitude of the threat he represents, it may be too late for her to save the Romulans -- or the galaxy.

Janeway is strong, assertive, and completely likeable in these books, working with Torres to save the ship, keeping Seven firmly in the background. Kim gets to romance an intriguing alien, Neelix gets to use his cooking for diplomatic purposes. As in Golden's Marooned, poor Paris is badly injured and can't play superman, but his weakened physical state gives him a rare chance to act as diplomat and researcher instead of hotshot pilot.

Chakotay is by far the most improved character, maintaining all the intriguing elements we saw early on in the series that have largely been absent of late. He meditates, he tries to talk to his animal guide, he recognizes the Lakota Ghost Dance parallelled in an ancient culture on a distant planet. He weighs heavily the decision to contradict Janeway in public, but does so when he feels he should. His feelings for Janeway as both first officer and friend occupy Chakotay's thoughts a great deal, which humanizes both characters and adds a dramatic element absent from the television series. In these books, when Chakotay risks his life to save Janeway's, or when she takes his hand on the bridge because they think they've found a way home, the subtext gives the scenes emotional power.

There are lots of nods to previous series -- Beverly Crusher's warp bubble, the Bajoran Prophets -- as well as explanations of some of the irrational aliens from Voyager being affected by mind-destroying mutated dark matter (Culluh, the Baneans and Numiri from "Ex Post Facto," the manipulative prime minister from "Prime Factors"). There's also a mysterious entity with ties to Voyager whom I'm hoping turns out to be an evolved Kes, but it could be the creature Janeway saved in "The Cloud" or some other alien. As usual, Pocket Books leaves us with a cliffhanger until Book III comes out in December...but apart from the screaming in rage at being left hanging, Books I and II are sheer delight.

* * * *

I enjoyed the final volume of Christie Golden's Dark Matters trilogy better than the first two volumes, and I hadn't believed that to be possible because the first two were excellent. She successfully resolves a complex scientific conundrum involving dark matter, unravels a tough political situation among the Romulans, and offers some interesting commentary on the Prime Directive by depicting the explosive relationship between a technologically advanced society and one that rejects technology sharing the same world. She also gives Harry Kim a lovely, doomed romance, and allows the vicious chairman of the Romulan Tal Shiar to redeem herself. There's not a single character neglected.

In the previous two novels, Golden had set up a situation in which Telek R'Mor, a Romulan known to the Voyager crew via his wormhole technology, discovered a deadly threat to the entire universe when a rogue from a race called the Shepherds encouraged the Romulans to use mutated dark matter to create cloaks for their ships. The planned catastrophic invasion of the Federation is the least of Voyager's worries, for the dark matter causes insanity and painful death in organic life forms and breaks down planets at the atomic level.

When we last saw our heroes, Captain Janeway had been taken prisoner, Jekri Kaleh of the Tal Shiar had been imprisoned with the complicity of her second in command, Chakotay and Paris were stranded on an alien world with two antagonistic cultures, and Telek R'Mor had just learned the universe's soon-to-be awful fate. In the early pages of Shadow of Heaven, Janeway and Kaleh are both freed, only to embark on the most difficult missions of their lives. Chakotay and Paris dwell in relative comfort, but they soon realize their bodies are not adjusting to the shift in their realities. Khala, Harry Kim's lover from the world where his crewmates have been taken, experiences similar problems aboard Voyager. For as Telek R'Mor has learned, they reside in separate universes connected via dark matter -- the substance being manipulated by the Shepherds with consequences for all life forms.

The quests that follow are personal as well as epic. Chakotay tries to reconcile the Culilann and Alilann cultures before a disaster unfolds similar to the slaughter of Native Americans by European settlers. Paris tries to support a Culilann leader who secretly works as an Alilann contact. Kim teaches Khala how to reconcile technology and respect for nature. Kaleh learns compassion from being a prisoner within the system she helped build. Janeway and R'Mor come to understand the building blocks of all the universes. Things don't work out perfectly on either an individual or galactic scale, but a surprising number of people get to live happily ever after.

One of Golden's greatest assets is that she doesn't require the characters to be paragons of virtue, yet they consistently rise above their limitations. Paris is tempted by a beautiful alien, yet sublimates that to help her people. Torres and Seven work together best when they're snapping at one another, inadvertently giving each other ideas. Kaleh comes from a background of scheming and manipulation, yet her honor requires that she protect her Empire and put aside personal desires, even when faced with death. Kes makes a surprise visit, only to learn that one of her humanoid incarnations has damaged her ability to help those she loves most.

Like Deep Space Nine: Millennium, the Voyager: Dark Matter trilogy joyously celebrates the characters and plot devices of an entire series while the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. For less than $21, readers can relive all the highlights of the early seasons and experience the show as it should have been all along.

Click here to buy Book One: Cloak and Dagger, Book Two: Dark Matters and Book Three: Shadow of Heaven from amazon.com.

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